PRESIDENT KARZAI: (Speaking in Pashto.)
SEC. GATES: First, let me start by thanking President Karzai for hosting, once again. We had a very good conversation about challenges facing Afghanistan, as well as the ever-increasing opportunities.
The most pressing matter we've discussed was the major operation that President Karzai approved in Helmand Province where Afghan and international troops have succeeded in clearing almost all of Marja and Nad Ali. President Karzai visited the battlefield yesterday and spoke at length with tribal elders about the concerns and needs of the people.
The insight President Karzai shared with me about his visit shows once again that establishing security is only the first step. Long-term success will ultimately be determined by how well the Afghan government, with the support of the international community, can respond to the citizens of Afghanistan and inspire their loyalty.
In that respect, and even though the holding and building phase in Marja is just beginning, the initial results are encouraging. Employment and agricultural programs have been initiated. Bazaars and schools are reopening. And most importantly, displaced families are returning home.
Of course, the operation in Marja is only one of many battles to come in a much longer campaign focused on protecting the people of Afghanistan. Since General McChrystal made population protection the centerpiece of his military strategy, civilian casualties have been dramatically reduced. When despite our very best efforts they do occur, we will continue to acknowledge our mistakes and find new and better ways to coordinate more closely with Afghan forces.
This will be particularly important over the next year as tens of thousands of additional Afghan and international troops join the fight. As we have learned in Marja and elsewhere, successful operations depend on Afghan national security forces.
I support President Karzai's goal of 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police by the end of next year. And I thanked him for his call for Afghans to join their security forces.
I also told him that I will continue to work with our NATO allies and other international partners to get more trainers and mentors. We're all united in wanting to see the Afghans assume greater responsibility for the security of their own country and their own people.
I last visited Afghanistan last December, only days after President Obama announced a new strategy to demonstrate America's enduring commitment to Afghanistan. General McChrystal believes that the security situation is no longer deteriorating and that there are also a number of other positive developments. The international community has made significant pledges of additional military and civilian support. Improvements in the relations with Pakistan have yielded tangible results and increased cooperation along the border. And Afghan troops have responded to the call of their commander-in-chief to join the fight in unprecedented numbers, and they are making heroic sacrifices to protect the men, women and children of this country from the enemies of a free Afghanistan.
There is still much fighting ahead and there will assuredly be more dark days. But looking forward, there are grounds for optimism as our countries pursue what President Karzai has called an Afghan-led, and Afghan-owned initiative to ensure peace and stability. That is the goal I share, and working together, it is one we can achieve.
Q A question for both of you, first for President Karzai. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you told -- (inaudible) -- peace conference that you have -- (inaudible) -- to hold this spring? Do you feel you have the backing of international partners such as Secretary Gates to hold it now? And for Secretary Gates, did you learn anything today that helps you understand more of what President Karzai wants from that conference and whether you think now is the time to do it? Could it be productive in the absence of full -- (inaudible) --
PRESIDENT KARZAI: On the peace jirga that we will be convening nearly a month and a half from today, we will have the participation of the people of Afghanistan from all walks of life from across the country, from all the provinces. The objective will be to get guidance from the Afghan people on how to move forward towards reintegration and reconciliation where reconciliation may be possible. And to chart out an action plan in consultation with the Afghan people and by the approval of Afghan control toward the civilian population.
Now, when we say reconciliation, let me emphasize, once again, that this means reconciling those of the Taliban and other elements who have taken -- (inaudible) -- against their own country because of the circumstances in which they found themselves.
Now, not with those who are part of al Qaeda or part of other terrorist networks. So reconciliation will be with those Afghans, of those Taliban and other elements who are Afghans, who are opposed to -- (inaudible) -- who have no ideological enmity to the people of Afghanistan or its constitution, and who are not part of the al Qaeda network or other networks. Reintegration means with thousands of Taliban who are sons of the soil but been forced into militancy by circumstances or by other events that forced them there, and that's a process that has the approval of our allies as well.
SEC. GATES: I would say that we have -- we are of like mind on this. There is already some reintegration going on as President Karzai has said; there are, we believe, thousands of those fighting for the Taliban who do so out of economic necessity or because they or their families have been intimidated. It's important to create the conditions for them to rejoin Afghan society and rejoin the Afghan political system.
But with respect to reconciliation, it is important that this be done at a time when it is done on the terms of the Afghan government, when those who are reconciled agree or abide by the Afghan constitution, put down their arms, to dissociate with al Qaeda and to rejoin Afghan society.
The timing of this really, I think, in many respects, depends on the conditions on the ground in terms of when people, particularly the more senior commanders realize that the odds against their success are no longer in their favor.
Q (Speaking in Pashto.)
PRESIDENT KARZAI: (Speaking in Pashto.)
SEC. GATES: Our decision is that that is a bilateral matter in terms of governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Q Thank you. Mr. President, you alluded before to corruption in outside funded projects in Afghanistan. As you know, there is much concern in the U.S. about corruption within the government of Afghanistan as well.
To you, sir, are you willing to take strong and direct action against members of the Afghan government who are into corruption regardless of their connections perhaps to you or to others very close to you?
And Mr. Secretary, as corruption within Afghanistan has become now so pervasive and threatens the success of the entire world.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: On the question of corruption, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, there are namely two areas of corruption in this country, one is the day-to-day corruption that Afghanistan has its government and its system as a whole -- there are trades taking place or -- (inaudible) -- activities taking place, that's the concern from the Afghan -- (inaudible) -- and for the Afghan people in which the Afghan government has acknowledged today. But from time to time -- (inaudible) -- very strict action. There are daily people taken into the justice system, there are people with certain prison sentences right now, and there will be more.
As a matter of fact, in a few days time I'll be issuing -- (inaudible) -- directives -- (inaudible) -- in the form of a decree that will outline the next steps of action in the government of Afghanistan, we will be taking in order to tackle the corruption in this country today. (Inaudible.)
The other element of corruption is in the contracts and the contractual -- (inaudible) -- and the delivery of the systems that's here in Afghanistan and implemented by our international partners -- that is in the -- (inaudible) -- which both the international and Afghan contracted parties are involved. There, the Afghan government is still in control, but have complaints about. And we hope. and as I mentioned, we discussed this issue earlier, that the partners, international partners will furnish us with the complete details of the condition of such contracts, the hows and whens and whos of these contracts, and that the more the transparency in these contracts, the more of the sharing of information in Afghanistan of these contracts, the better the -- (inaudible) -- of the Afghan government, also in the interests -- (inaudible) -- corruption within the Afghan government because this makes -- (inaudible) -- corruption in the Afghan government.
SEC. GATES: There's no question that widespread corruption is an impediment to success. It undermines popular confidence in officials and the government itself. There are multiple sources of corruption, and as I said in speaking behind this very same podium last December and on several previous occasions, and as I have testified to our Congress, I do have concerns that with the billions and billions of dollars coming into Afghanistan from the international community, that that assistance itself has become one of those sources of corruption. And it's one that we in the United States government, insofar as we're involved, have an obligation to investigate and to try and prevent. I think there is more that we can do to make it more difficult for the sources of our assistance to become one of the sources of corruption.
So as far as I'm concerned, unfinished business as far as the United States is concerned that we have to address.
Q (Off mike.) My question is that we've all heard that the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan -- (inaudible). Every Pashtun family has a member who has -- (inaudible) -- and said it will undermine the anti-terror -- (inaudible) --
SEC. GATES: I have a great deal of respect for the senior representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, for Ambassador Holbrooke. That doesn't mean that I agree with everything he says, including that.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: I guess Secretary Gates answered the question for both of us.
SEC. GATES: Thank you.
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